Accountability is “critically missing from education” and teachers need to stand up and take responsibility, Chief Education Officer Olato Sam said.
Meeting head teachers from across Region Four at a workshop at the Diamond Secondary School on Thursday, Sam stressed the importance of accountability saying that now is the time to act. “We are going to empower you,” he told the teachers. “We now need to have a different relationship with you.” He said that the heads had a critical role to play for improved performance in the education system. Schools with proper leadership perform better than others, he said.
The meeting was the first in a series to engage head teachers countrywide to outline the ministry’s thrust to improve education standards and delivery in 2011. Minister of Education Shaik Baksh as well as regional education officials were present.
Sam said the focus must be on education delivery and on the top of the list is what is happening in the classroom on a day-to-day basis. Literacy standards will be the central element of focus as they move forward, he said. “Nothing can be more important than literacy and numeracy,” Sam said adding that everybody needs to be on board. He said the ministry is working to ensure that material for the literacy programme is there. “We can’t afford to have children going to primary schools who can’t write their names,” he said. He emphasized that the mandate of the education system is to ensure that students should be able to read by the end of Grade Two.
He said that all primary school teachers should have an intimate understanding of the literacy standard for the grade they teach. He said they should speak up if they require assistance or further resources.
Sam said that one of the “greatest evils” in the sector is the examination culture. He said that this has robbed numerous children of a chance to excel in the education system. This needs to be changed and focus placed on confidence, he said. Teachers are not considering the needs of children in front of them and that is why the focus is on a paradigm shift, he said.
Meantime, Baksh stressed to the head teachers the need for effective leadership to maximize the potential of their teachers and to ensure better learning outcomes from students. He said if head teachers demonstrate sound leadership of their schools, ultimately the performance of students will improve and there will be less intervention from the regional education authorities.
Baksh stressed that in reaching this level, there is the need for school managers to embrace accountability, effective policy implementation and regular feedback on the performance of teachers under their supervision as well as students.
Staff shortages, overcrowding
Several head teachers took the opportunity to raise concerns, including staff shortages and overcrowding.
Head teacher of the Hope Estate Primary School Joan Butcher spoke of the terrible state of the access road to the school saying that they have to pay as much as $500 or $700 to get to school. She also spoke of the difficulties with the timetable being used for multi-grade schools as well as the training of multi-grade teachers. Baksh, in response, said he was assured that a timetable specific to multi-grade schools was developed. “This will be dealt with as a matter of urgency,” he said. He also promised to look into the issue of the road.
In response to the concerns of teacher shortage, Baksh said that the region must move promptly to fill the needs. The head teacher of the Annandale Secondary School said that because of overcrowding, as many as nine classrooms had to be placed in the school’s auditorium. Baksh, in response, noted that a new school is scheduled to open in the area in September but promised to look into the issue.
The head teacher from the Covent Garden Secondary School also raised the issue of overcrowding and staff shortage. At the moment, she has vacancies for several teachers, she said. Baksh also promised to work quickly to ensure that the issues are resolved.
Another head teacher pointed to the issue of some students not attending school but sometimes are seen vending. Baksh noted that the attendance rate in primary schools in Region Four is 70% while for secondary schools it is even lower, in the region of the 60’s. He stressed the need for parents to be involved in ensuring their children attend school pointing out that some form of support can be sought. Another teacher said that some form of assistance should be afforded to single parents. In response, Baksh alluded to a ‘Poverty Fund’ and said that this will go to Cabinet in February for approval.
The issue of sub-standard equipment sent to schools for their literacy and numeracy programmes as well as the late delivery of materials was also raised as well as classrooms being one big space instead of being enclosed. While enclosed classrooms may take a longer time to be realized, Baksh outlined several steps the ministry is taking in relation to the issues raised.
Earlier, he had noted that while infrastructural matters with regard to schools do not fall directly under his purview, any school environment which is not conducive to learning is a concern to him. He said the ministry is working with the Ministry of Local Government to have the issues addressed, particularly as it relates to inadequate furniture for schools.
He had also noted that at the primary level, the continuous assessment programme, the new literacy methodology which includes the literacy hour and accelerated literacy instruction periods – the Interactive Radio Instruction programme, the Fast-track Literacy programme and the National Grade Six Assessment are being evaluated to correct areas of weaknesses and to ensure pupils are literate and numerate by the time they complete the primary cycle. He also noted the introduction of the Literacy Certification Assessment at Grade Four which, he said, is critical in ensuring all students attain the prescribed literacy benchmarks. The assessment will be conducted in June for the first time.